Muskie Stocking Program to End at Indiana's Loon Lake

In a move to better allocate muskies produced in Indiana state fish hatcheries, the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) plans to end its 32-year muskie stocking program at Loon Lake in Whitley County.

The DNR first stocked muskies in the 222-acre natural lake in 1978 to boost predation on small, over-abundant bluegills and create muskie fishing opportunities.

Since 1978 more than 34,000 muskie fingerlings, typically measuring 8 to 10 inches long at the time of stocking, have been released into the lake. Funds to cover the cost of producing and stocking the muskies came from the sale of fishing licenses and federal sport fish restoration dollars.

Muskies are members of the pike family and can grow more than 48 inches long and weigh more than 25 pounds. They are toothy predator fish that eat a variety of other fish species, including bluegills. They prefer, however, to eat suckers, shad, and other soft-rayed fish.

By stocking muskies in Loon Lake, biologists theorized bluegills that escaped predation would have more food to eat and would be able to grow larger. When the stocking program began, the lake already had a long history of producing bluegills too small to interest most anglers.

"So much for theories," said Jed Pearson, DNR biologist who has managed the Loon Lake muskie stocking program since it began. "What we hoped would occur once muskies were in the lake just never happened."

Bluegills continue to dominate its fish population. Bluegills represented 80 percent of the fish collected in a recent DNR survey.

"That's about twice the normal percentage of bluegills in Indiana natural lakes," he said. "And most of them were small, less than 6 inches long. Unlike bluegills at other lakes in the area, none of them were 8 inches long."

The lack of many catchable-size bluegills deters anglers from fishing.

Based on an angler survey conducted by the DFW in 2009, fishing effort at Loon Lake was low-only 35 hours per acre. The bluegill harvest rate of 0.6 bluegills per hour was only half the average compared to other lakes. The number of bluegills taken home by anglers plummeted from a high of 15,000 in 1983 to only 1,600 in 2009.

The decline in bluegill harvest, however, was not due muskie predation.

"A lot of bluegill fishermen simply lost interest in fishing," Pearson said.

Meanwhile muskie fishing failed to attract many anglers. Interest waned in recent years.

"Only 6 percent of fishermen at Loon Lake fish for muskies," he said. "That figure is half of what it once was and well below average compared to other muskie lakes."

With ample opportunities to fish for muskies already in several nearby lakes, Pearson expects anglers who previously fished for muskies at Loon to switch to other stocked lakes, including Lake Tippecanoe and the Barbee lakes.

"Muskies won't disappear from Loon Lake overnight either," Pearson said. "Fishermen will still be able to fish for them for many years. Fingerlings that were just stocked last fall could be around for 10 years or more."

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